2009 Lexus GS450h

Spirited, sophisticated sedan makes it easy to go green

2009 Lexus GS450h

Some people may consider the term ‘performance hybrid’ to be as much of an oxymoron as jumbo shrimp or crash landing but Lexus doesn’t think so. Doing their damndest to change the automotive lexicon and collective conscious of the buying public, the GS450h does just that.

FAST FACTS

1. The 450h also qualifies as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV)

2. The gas/electric hybrid powertrain achieves EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

3. When the 3.5-liter V6 engine and high-torque electric motor are combined, the hybrid powertrain is capable of putting out 339 hp.

Among the choices of luxury vehicles with hybrid technology in the Lexus line-up, the GS450h fits nicely into the fleet by offering luxury, comfort and performance in a sedan that is sleek, sporty and sophisticated. Boasting the largest fleet of hybrids and getting bigger, Lexus blends their green technology seamlessly into their products in a diverse lineup of luxury vehicles to suit folks from varied well-heeled walks of life.

While most hybrids utilize their technological tidbits to increase fuel efficiency, there are no hard and fast rules saying this must always be the case. The Lexus GS450h, for instance, uses a different blueprint, aimed as much at boosting the performance capabilities of the rear-wheel-drive performance sedan, as at saving fuel.

Electric motors assist by adding low-end torque when moving from a standstill and provide additional power during spirited acceleration. Nearly three years after its North American debut, the 450h is still in a class all its own. Sure, there are plenty of sporty family sedans, some of which offer hybrid technology, but few can compare with the 450h’s combination of style, performance and fuel-economy. The closest options would be diesels from the likes of Mercedes-Benz but North Americans are fickle when it comes to buying diesel passenger vehicles.

BRAINS AND BRAWN

Despite being a highly sophisticated, luxurious sedan, the 450h makes due with a 3.5-liter V6 powerplant produces just 292 hp at 6400 rpm. Combine this with a high-torque electric motor, however, and the hybrid powertrain is capable of putting out 339 hp.

Unlike many Hybrids, the 450h actually has two electric motors that generate power. The first acts strictly as a generator that’s sole purpose is to recharge the hybrid battery, while the second provides power to the rear wheels making it capable of hitting 60 mph in a tick over five seconds. Power delivery is not only potent, but buttery smooth thanks to the advanced CVT transmission, which offers Snow, Sport and Normal modes. It is also touted as the world’s first longitudinally mounted hybrid transmission. The combination of the front mounted engine and rear mounted transmission, electric motors and batteries, means that the 450h is incredibly well balanced when tackling the twisties.

Suspension settings can be changed from Comfort to Sport, depending on road conditions and desired dampening characteristics. Not nearly as dynamic or exciting as say, an M5 or E63 AMG, the 450h does offer well-balanced, predictable handling with power that is potent but far from being exhilarating.

CONVENIENT COMPROMISE

The beauty of the 450h is that its performance is available without sacrificing fuel economy… too much. The gas/electric hybrid powertrain achieves an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, which won’t win any awards from Greenpeace, but isn’t bad considering the performance capabilities of the 4,134 lb sedan.

Interior fit and finish is classically Lexus; smooth, high quality heated and ventilated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, glossy wood dash, door and steering wheel inserts and an optional Mark Levinson 14-speaker 330-watt premium sound system. Road noise was virtually inaudible from inside the cabin even on the highway, until I decided to embrace the spring sunshine and open the power moonroof. Once it was ajar, the opening surprisingly created a great deal of wind oscillation and noise, which trumped my need for a little vitamin D.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

Aside from the reduction in trunk space, hybrid gauge cluster and subtle exterior badging, the 450h differs little from its GS350 and GS460 brethren aesthetically. The real reason for choosing the 450h is because it offers the V8 performance of the 460 with fuel consumption numbers resembling that of the V6 GS350, albeit at a premium.

The base price of the 450h is $56,400, which quickly shoots skyward when checking boxes on the option sheet. Lexus is evidently banking on buyers choosing the hybrid not so much for the savings in fuel costs, but for the peace of mind that comes from reducing their carbon footprint and proving to their neighbors and co-workers that they do indeed care about the environment.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Lexus name nomenclature traditionally represents the displacement of the engine, but “450” was chosen for this 3.5-liter hybrid due to its performance numbers resembling that of a 4.5-liter V8. The 450h also qualifies as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) because the engine shuts off when the vehicle is decelerating and sitting dormant at streetlights or in traffic. The 450h is capable of cruising around the city in electric mode up until about 15mph before the gasoline engine fires up. Real world fuel savings will, therefore, vary depending on such variables as driving conditions and behavior. The GS450h allows the driver to save valuable petroleum for experiencing spirited driving pleasure instead of idling in metropolitan gridlock.

THE VERDICT

Navigating the environmentally-friendly and politically correct landscape of these modern times can be a daunting task. Balancing public perception with your own needs often requires forfeiting the things you take pleasure in or interrupting your normal daily habits. While you may have to switch to reusable grocery bags and ditch that noisy two-stroke lawnmower to avoid getting dirty looks from your neighbors, there is no need to concede your passion for spirited driving enjoyment and unabashed luxury thanks to the GS450h.

PLUS

Performance hybrid sedan in a league of its own Seamless transition to hybrid mode Sleek and sophisticated luxury sedan

MINUS

Minimal trunk space Wind noise from moonroof Price premium of hybrid version

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2009 Lexus LS600hL

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